Chapter 23: "Duty and Emotion"
Heero stood with arms crossed, glowering down at the girls sitting stiffly in their seats in the passenger area. Duo stood behind him, hands thrust in his pockets as he frowned disapprovingly at Hilde for her part in the whole thing. Quatre, after taking one look at the scene, had gone to take over in the cockpit, and Trowa was still cleaning the kitchenette. Wufei had disappeared, presumably to snarl to himself in private over the pig-headedness of his friend.
Duo had already explained what had occurred, not allowing any interruptions from either the shame-faced Hilde or the indignant Relena. Now at last Heero spoke to the Senator's daughter directly. "Why did you do that?" he demanded coldly. "Especially with the bomber not that far away."
"What did you expect me to do?" Relena snapped. "I have no idea what your friends' plans are, or where we're going, or if I'll ever get off this shuttle. So I asked my father to come rescue Hilde and me."
Hilde stared at her. "Me?" she repeated irritably. "I already told you I--"
"But now he says he won't," Relena burst out, looking horribly upset. "As soon as your name was mentioned--"
"You gave him our names?" Duo interrupted, eyes wide.
Relena barely spared him a glance. "Well, it would be easier to find you, wouldn't it?" she pointed out a little coolly. "Especially if any of you have criminal records..."
Duo started to sputter, and Hilde, looking at him carefully, thought he had turned a shade paler.
"You told him my name, and then what?" Heero demanded, pushing ahead with typical bull-headedness.
"No," Relena said quickly. "I never said your name, Heero. He... well, he asked specifically if you were here. It was very strange."
Duo and Heero frowned at each other briefly. "How would he know you're here?" Duo muttered. "I don't believe it. She must've said your name."
"I didn't!" Relena contested hotly. "I didn't want to get Heero in trouble!"
"Oh, but handing the rest of us our death sentences is just fine," Duo sneered.
"Oh-" Relena said in sudden recollection, not even seeming to hear him. "I remember. As soon as I mentioned Chang, he asked if you were here--"
Heero took two quick steps forward and leaned over sharply so he was right in her face. "You told him Wufei is here?" he repeated in such a dangerous voice that Relena shrank back instinctively.
She caught herself and forced herself to straighten her back, facing him head-on. "Of course I did," she said firmly. "He knows Chang attends my school, so he would recognize the name."
"Oh, Jesus," Duo said weakly, reaching up to massage a sudden headache. "The girl might as well have stepped aboard with an H-bomb attached to her rear. That's it, we dump her on the next rock we pass."
"You have no idea what you've done," Heero informed Relena coldly when she opened her mouth to argue. "There are people after Wufei. People who want to kill him." Hilde looked at him sharply in surprise. "And you've just given away our position to anyone who might have been tapping your father's line," Heero continued ruthlessly. "They could have traced your call directly to us."
"I wasn't trying to do that," Relena said hastily. "But you aren't listening. My father said--"
Heero turned his back on her dismissively, fixing his hard gaze on Duo, who was scowling darkly at Relena. "Howard. How long until he meets up with us?"
"Beats me, man," Duo admitted with an exaggerated shrug. "Last time I contacted him was after Wufei pulled his little 'I don't want to be a part of this' trick after we got him out of Kushrenada's place. He knows the direction we're headed, and the approximate route, but God only knows how long it'll take him to reach us. He could be days away, or he could be floating randomly nearby for all I know. I haven't been able to get in touch with him since we left Earth."
Relena leapt to her feet. "Heero! Listen to me! My father said to tell you to contact your employer."
Heero turned and gave her a sharp, suspicious look.
Duo stared at her for a long moment, then abruptly his face shifted into something ugly and dangerous.
Hilde realized instinctively that Relena had suddenly made herself into a threat-- and possibly a target. They were both suspicious of the other girl now. She got to her feet quickly and put herself partly in between Relena and the two pilots. "Wait a second," she said loudly to get everyone's attention. "Relena's not a spy or an enemy or anything like that. She has no idea what her father's talking about."
Relena took one look at Duo's expression and lost a bit of her wind. Her voice was a little more subdued when she explained, though the look she offered Heero was reproachful, as if he had kept something from her he shouldn't have. "As soon as I mentioned Wufei, he asked if you were here. I don't know how he guessed that, but I had to tell the truth. So I said yes. That was when he said..." she swallowed hard, forcing herself to continue. "He said he couldn't come get me. He said I... had to go with you."
"What?!" Duo practically shouted.
"He said to have you contact your employer. That he would explain everything. And that he couldn't come and get me, but would meet up with me later." She shook her head fiercely in desperate denial. "What was he talking about, Heero?! Who's your 'employer'? And why do I have to go with all of you? I want to know what's going on!"
But Heero and Duo just looked at each other blankly.
"...I did hear that part, at least," Duo said after a long moment. "Right before I switched off the vid. He was shouting something about our employer. Saying to contact him."
"What's all this about, Heero?" Relena demanded. "I want to know what's going on. What's so important about you and this trip you're making, and why do I have to be a part of it?"
"There's nothing important about me," Heero snapped. "And this mission is none of your business." He paused, debating, then turned to Duo. "Fine," he growled. "I'll make the call."
"It's probably all bullshit," Duo pointed out.
"I expect it to be," Heero said darkly. "Lock these two in the sleeping quarters. They're not to be anywhere else on the shuttle by themselves."
"Duo, I'm sorry," Hilde blurted. He looked at her, startled. "I'm sorry," she repeated, not letting herself avoid his eyes. "For tricking you like that. It's just... Relena needed to talk to her father so badly. You can't blame her for being frightened."
Duo gave her a long, steady look, but she couldn't tell whether he was still angry or not.
"I wasn't frightened," Relena snapped. "I just don't trust most of you. Some in particular." Her eyes darted unconsciously towards Duo. "Heero, I want to trust you. I don't think you mean either of us any harm. But it's the company you keep that--"
"Sleeping quarters. Now." And Heero stalked off without a backwards look, leaving Relena gaping foolishly and Hilde and Duo still staring at each other with tense uncertainty.
On a whim, Wufei did a quick search of the office Heero had left him in. He'd seen Heero disappear into it once briefly, and had a sneaking suspicion that he'd hidden something he didn't want Wufei to find. He tore open all the drawers and cabinets until he finally found Heero's small duffel bag stuffed in the back of a desk drawer. He yanked it out and emptied its contents out on the desk surface without ceremony.
He sifted through the scant belongings impatiently: toothbrush, toothpaste, cheap hair-and-body wash, a comb, two shirts, a book in Japanese that he couldn't read... There!
He flicked aside a stray sock and lifted his prize smugly. It was the carved rod his mother had kept hidden from him all those years and finally given to him the night he'd left with Trowa on their strange journey. The Suits had seemed particuarly interested in it, and later Heero had somehow used to it to defend him at Kushrenada's mansion. Duo had taken one look at it and become instantly obsessed, claiming that it had once belonged to him. Heero had refused to give it to him, and had kept it in his possession ever since.
Wufei turned the short stick over and over again in his hands, frowning at the strange symbols etched onto its surface and smoothing his thumb against the two red pommels on either end. Heero had said a word, and as if by magic, the rod had shot out several yards its normal length. Heero had used it like an oversized staff to knock back the enemies, but had been tight-lipped about the whole thing, refusing to explain anything about it to Wufei.
But it's mine, Wufei thought stubbornly. Heero may know how to use it, may have held onto it when we were kids, but my mother gave it to me. It was kept in our house for when I left again. He brought the strange device closer to his face, trying to discern the meaning behind the scratchings. He recognized some of the Chinese characters on it, but they didn't make any sense. They were simply words, making up no sentence that he could make out, interspersed with shapes and symbols he didn't recognize. He read the Chinese, hoping their meaning would become clear to him. Fire, dragon, eternal, pair, and destiny. The rest were just gibberish. He wasn't even sure they were from a real language.
He blew out a sigh of aggravation. He could make no connections. Duo had mentioned his "coming of age", and something about the year of the dragon. That might explain "fire" and "dragon". "Destiny"... well, his mother had spoken to him about that the night he'd left home. Something about how he would be expected to live up to a destiny of some sort. He shook his head slowly, running his fingertips along the engravings. If anyone knew what the symbols meant, or what the stick really was, it would be Heero. But he hadn't seemed too keen on explaining it last time Wufei had asked. It was just another mystery he was going to have to figure out for himself.
There was a notch around the end of the stick, just below one of the pommels.
Wufei thought of his dream, and the conversation he'd had with Heero, where he'd mentioned wearing something around his neck, and having to give up the leather cord so Wufei could tie his robe shut.
He cast about, then dug through the desk drawers, but there was nothing he could use for a cord. He stared long and hard at the strange rod, willing it to tell him its secrets, battering away at his mind for a hint, a memory, a glimpse. But all he could remember was that Heero had worn it around his neck constantly in their childhood. He'd said it had been given to him when he'd been appointed Primary Guardian. And after what he'd done with it in Kushrenada's yard, it only stood to reason that it was meant to be a weapon of some kind. Probably to protect the Guardian's charge. It was made for Heero to defend Wufei.
Wufei snorted and reluctantly slid the stick back into the bag, stuffing the rest of the belongings in after it. Heero would notice it missing, and anyway, he could think of nowhere to hide it. What was the point, anyway, when he didn't even know how to use it? He would wait. Eventually, Heero would slip. He'd give away its secret. Then Wufei would take it back. It may have been given to Heero first, but that was when they were children. And Wufei was certainly no child. He didn't need someone to watch his back with some mystical stick.
He was quite capable of taking care of himself.
Tossing the bag into the drawer-- leaving it open purposefully so Heero would know he'd found it but had not taken the rod --he left the small office, sliding the door silently shut behind him.
Once the distraction of the strange weapon was gone, he found his mind drifting back to its former owner. He found the nearest porthole and leaned his forehead against the cold glass, staring blindly out at the stars with a small, unconsious frown on his lips.
This has nothing to do with the mission!
What... had that been all about? He and Heero had squabbled practically non-stop since they'd met, but that was the first time Heero had flat-out yelled at him like that. And that argument had not gone in the direction he'd expected it to.
If it wasn't about the stupid 'mission', then what....? Wufei shook his head slightly against the thick glass. Sometimes he wondered if he'd ever understand the way Heero ticked. Probably because in a lot of ways, he was too much like Wufei himself. There were just certain things neither of them dealt well with. One of them was authority. The other was obviously emotions, and being able to control or categorize them.
His mind flitted unwanted back to certain scenes. Pinned between the shower wall and Heero in the locker room back on earth, and the way his deodorant smelled. A low chuckle in the darkness of a hotel room. Hot breath on his mouth with cold water dripping from his hair down his back.
Wufei snarled a curse and jerked away from the porthole. He caught a glimpse of his reflection and saw the blush there that was making his entire face feel hot. He turned his back on it and stalked quickly down the hall.
No. He was making something out of nothing-- and why was he thinking about those instances in the first place?? He wasn't.... wasn't interested in that, not with anyone. He wasn't that way. And he certainly was not letting himself flush at the thought of... strange things like those instances with another man for Christ's sake.
He turned abruptly and slammed a fist into the wall in frustration. He felt like screaming.
Because no matter what he shouted at himself, the calm little voice of reason in the back of his mind refused to relent. It simply continued to calmly inform him that he was being very stupid about all this, and anyway, he was a terrible liar.
Wufei let his head thump against the wall, baring his teeth in frustrated rage at himself, and at the one who was causing these confusing thoughts. He had never been good at figuring out his own emotions, but then, they'd never been put to the test like this before. Now that he was confronted with them, he had no idea what to do with them.
Wufei jerked around, staring incredulously at the young man hesitating a little farther down the corridor, mouth pulled in a frown. Blue eyes flicked from him to the slight dent in the wall. "Is this some kind of escape attempt? Or did the wall say something to offend you?" From behind Heero, Duo's eyebrows slowly rose in surprise.
Wufei didn't know that he was one of the few living to have ever heard this kind of easy, sarcastic banter from Heero Yuy. He only knew that Heero had caught him in the middle of his confusion and frustration, causing his face to flush once more, and it only helped to enflame his temper. "What do you want?" he snapped.
Heero blinked, then an instant later his face was its normal stone mask once more, his voice reverting to the more monotonous tone he usually used. "Hilde wants to talk to you," he said shortly, and continued down the corridor with Duo in tow. Wufei refused to look at either of them, scowling at the port-hole while internally he winced. He hadn't meant to lash out, but Heero had chosen the exact wrong time to find him. After they'd left, he stormed off in search of his friend.
You, the little voice deep inside informed him in disgust, are an idiot.
Heero lowered the radio slowly, staring at it with a scowl.
"Bring her with us?" Duo repeated at last in disbelief. "Is he crazy?"
"...Those are our orders," Heero said finally. "I don't understand it, and I don't know how her father knew about it, but we don't have any other choice. Whatever the reason, she has her own purpose in all of this."
Duo slapped a palm to his forehead. "Great," he groaned. "Just great. And here I was looking forward to dropping her off on the nearest surface. You mean we gotta put up with her shit for the rest of the trip??"
"Duo," Quatre protested from the pilot's seat.
"That's enough, Duo," Heero said shortly.
"She's not that bad," Quatre said quietly. "She's just confused and frightened. Anyway, it's lucky we decided to take her with us in the first place."
"Yeah, I guess," Duo grumbled. "It woulda sucked if we'd found out later, and had to turn around and get her."
Quatre was frowning thoughtfully. "No, I don't think so. Her father knew about it; even said he'd 'meet her later', right? That's what she said. How does he know where we're going? Perhaps he was supposed to bring her along later."
"But why?" Duo demanded in exasperation. "What the hell do we need her for?"
Quatre looked like he was about to say something, then looked at Heero and evidently changed his mind. "Who knows?"
Heero put the radio down firmly. "If those are our orders, then so be it," he said firmly. "But she goes nowhere near the radios or cockpit at any time."
"Aye aye, cap'n," Duo drawled with a mocking salute.
It turned out Hilde wanted answers, and she'd be damned if she would allow her old friend to blow her off this time.
It was only fair, Wufei admitted to himself. She was putting herself in a considerable amount of danger just to stick with him through this. So with Relena napping and Hilde sitting on the other bed, Wufei leaned against the wall, arms crossed stiffly over his chest, and laid out his tale.
He told of how he'd met each of his Guardians, and about the Suits. He explained how the whole insane trip had begun, and the encounters they'd made on the way. He described bits and pieces of some of the dreams-- memories --he'd had. He left certain bits out... including most things between himself and Heero, as well as the strange rod and his mysterious Mark. But by the time he was finished, she was finally up to date on what had been happening in Wufei's life for the past two weeks.
She'd been furious on hearing about Treize, and was as baffled and surprised as he by the events in their entirety. "But... I still don't get it," she said once Wufei had finished. "What's so damned important about you?"
Wufei shrugged. "They won't say," he said in clipped tones. "Their employer-- who might or might not be my grandfather --ordered them not to reveal too much to me."
"You said they were appointed as your Guardians when you were really little, right?" Hilde mused. "And by the way some of your dreams went.... Wufei, I'll bet your family, your real family, used to be pretty important on the old L5. Maybe they were nobility, or aristocrats. Maybe you're from a family of great warriors or something."
Wufei frowned slightly. "The thought had occurred to me," he grunted. "Except that last one. Why would the son of 'great warriors' need four damned bodyguards?" Even as he said it, he thought of Heero's warning about foul play and being stabbed in the back.
"Beats me." Hilde shook her head to show her ignorance. "This is all really bizarre and a little freaky. But..." she grinned, "it's kinda cool, too."
"How is any of this 'cool'?" Wufei demanded dryly.
"Come on, Wufei!" Hilde got to her feet and swept her arms out to indicate the shuttle. "If you hadn't met Yuy and Duo and the others, you wouldn't be here, in space, today. You wouldn't have any idea about anything having to do with your past. Hints and dreams are better than nothing, right? You even have friends. Old friends. People you used to play with when you were kids. They're your only real, breathing link to your past. To your real life, your real identity. Sure, they're all pretty weird, but..." She looked at him solemnly. "You should be grateful for them, Wufei. They're ready to be your friends and watch your back even after all these years. If that's not loyalty, I don't know what is."
Just then Relena stirred, so they ended the conversation and Wufei retreated to the passenger area to mull over what Hilde had said.
Her words only made him feel more guilty than he had before. She had a point. They were willing to risk their lives for a boy they hardly even knew anymore, and he hadn't been particuarly friendly to any of them. Luckily they didn't seem too offended; they seemed to have quickly figured out how ill-equipped he was at dealing with companions. But he'd seen the hurt glimpses on Quatre's face more than once since they'd met, and Duo had been making several efforts to get on his good side and be his friend. Maybe, Wufei admitted grudgingly, chin in his palm as he gazed listlessly out at the stars, maybe Hilde had a point. Maybe he should at least attempt to accept them. All of them. He'd decided to trust Heero, but there was no reason he shouldn't give the other three the same chance. They had all, in some way or other, put themselves on the line for him.
He sensed Heero's presence rather than heard him enter, and looked up at the other boy without moving his head. Heero stood a few feet away, studying him stoically. He seemed to realize that Wufei was in a calmer mood, and took the seat beside him, staring straight ahead with an unreadable expression.
There was a long moment of awkward silence. Wufei was trying to figure out how to voice his thoughts aloud when finally Heero spoke.
"Barton thinks it would be best if we didn't spend too much time with each other," he said shortly, as if trying to get the whole thing over with.
Wufei blinked, taken off guard. He hesitated, then demanded bluntly, "And you agree with him?"
Heero didn't look at him for a few minutes. Wufei was beginning to think he wasn't going to get an answer either way, when Heero turned his head at last to look at him steadily. He studied Wufei's face, frowning slightly as if he was giving the question serious consideration. "I don't know," he said honestly. "He has his reasons. He's technically correct. This is-- or is supposed to be...." he paused, as if searching for the right word.
Wufei found it amusing and disturbing at the same time that, while he might argue with himself about this whole business, he still seemed to know what Heero was talking about. "Professional," he finished dryly.
Heero hesitated, then nodded once.
Wufei snorted, turning his head away so he was looking out of the porthole once more. He felt tense, and knew Heero could see how stiffly he was sitting. He felt annoyed and frustrated, and didn't bother to wonder why.
The silence stretched for a long time. Wufei waited for Heero to leave, and Heero stared listlessly at the chair across from him. Just when Wufei was seriously considering asking the other boy to get lost, Heero spoke again, so quietly Wufei almost didn't hear him. He turned in surprise at the foreign words, and saw that Heero was looking at him again.
"Demo.... Anata no koto wo shiritai."
Wufei could only stare back, breath caught in his throat in surprise. He knew the language. Heero was speaking Japanese. But he'd be damned if he knew what the words meant. "..What?" he asked at last.
Heero ignored the question. "Whatever Barton or the others say, they forget I'm your Primary Guardian," he pointed out. He rose to his feet. "Lunch is in an hour."
Wufei opened his mouth to protest the retreat, but Heero was already walking away. He watched the other boy leave, frowning to himself. When he forced himself to return his eyes to the stars, he caught his reflection staring back.
He was flushed again.
There was no more excitement until that night-- if there could be what one called a "night" in space.
Wufei had simply reclined one of the passenger seats, leaving the beds for the girls, and passed out after dinner. He was startled awake by Quatre shaking him by the shoulder urgently. He had his sword-- kept under the seat close at hand --halfway out of its sheath before he recognized the blonde.
"Wufei." Quatre looked harried and flushed with excitement at the same time. "Get up. Howard's here."
"What?" Wufei sat up slowly, wincing at the ache of stiff muscles. "Who the hell is--"
"Come on," Quatre urged, hurrying off.
Wufei muttered a curse and pulled himself up. He straightened his clothes, tightened his hair, and belted on his sword before following the other boy down the corridor. Belatedly he became aware of a muffled but continuous humming sound: the vibrations of an engine other than their own. It seemed to be coming from almost directly above them. Remembering pictures he'd seen of smaller ships docking with other, larger ones by attaching to the bottom of them, he picked up his pace. Had they attached to another ship? And if so, had they done so willingly, or were they trapped at last?
He met Trowa leading the girls out of their room. Hilde latched onto his arm the moment she saw him. Wufei felt instinctively protective until he saw the firearm in her free hand. Smiling grimly despite himself, he followed Trowa with the girls in tow.
Evidently their guests had already come aboard, because instead of leading them to the back of the ship, he took them to the largest and last room: the meeting room the Senator usually took counsel in with other heads of state.
The others were all there. Wufei's eyes found Heero instantly; the other boy was leaning against the wall close to the door, arms crossed. He met Wufei's eyes and nodded. Whether it was a greeting or a reassurance that they had found friends, Wufei couldn't decide.
Quatre was offering drinks to two strangers, both of them in flight suits. The woman had a red cross pinned to her lapel, labeling her as a doctor, and her hair was in two thick dirt-blond braids over her shoulders. When she looked up at the others' entrance, Wufei noticed the slight slant to her eyes right away. Blond hair or no, she had Asian in her ancestry somewhere.
Quatre turned to them with a smile. "Oh, good, there you are. This is Sally Po, the flight med. And this is the co-pilot, Captain Burnett." They both smiled and shook hands with Wufei and the others. Wufei grunted a greeting. Relena received them with grace and perfect politeness, as she'd been taught since birth. "And that's Howard," Quatre continued, gesturing. "An old friend and ally of Duo's."
Wufei's eyes were already drifting to the third stranger. Duo was talking animatedly with the other man at the end of the long table, laughing and joking. Obviously the two knew each other well. Wufei caught himself staring openly at the man in the loud hawaiian shirt, cut-off shorts, and sandals. He was at least somewhere in his late thirties, thin as a beanpole, had his beard trimmed to a point, and had the air of a beach bum, rather than someone they should be depending on to get their asses safely out of harm.
"You've got to be kidding," Hilde muttered incredulously at his side.
Author's Notes: Since Wufei will probably never figure out what this meant, and since it won't be translated later for those of you who are wondering..
Demo.... Anata no koto wo shiritai= "But.... I want to know more about you", basically.
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